I felt the first signs of entering into the “wilderness” of this experience about a week ago. I was told to beware of the 2nd week as it is common for people who embark on this length of a solo pilgrimage to suddenly hit a psychological wall. One person said he had to ride through that and then the world sort of opened up to him in a new way. Another person simply quit the first time he hit that second week before successfully overcoming it the next time out.
So far I have not hit anything like a wall where I feel like I have to force myself to ride through a psychological barrier. Nonetheless, I have been getting glimmers that are more sobering than anything else. As I said, I felt it first about a week ago as I left the mountains of Oregon and settled into the plains of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho. I have a feeling that the shift in terrain was part of it. As long as I was slicing through forests and passing at the foot of one of Oregon’s volcanic peaks I had enough external stimulation to keep me enthralled. I am not saying that the plains are not beautiful in their own way. But, I did find that the mile after mile of wheat fields and the treeless hillsides turned me inward. Maybe I found that Iwas more interesting to look at and it turned me inward!
Whatever the reason, I have been noticing the longer I am on the pilgrimage the more reflective I have become. When I say that I am beginning to see signs of the wilderness it is coming more than anything else in the form of feeling sobered. I have now been out for just under two weeks. I am now 18.5% of the way. I have more than 8 weeks still remaining. I will still need to cross the Wyoming high desert as well as the entire state of Nevada in late August. Not to mention a few more hills to climb between the deserts. I am doing fine, but the reality of the what is still ahead of me is sobering. I have wondered at times if I will just curl up in a ball at the foot of some mountain or the gateway to a desert and refuse to go on.
Strange thing about this, though. The experience of being in the wilderness is less about the physical terrain as it is about what I might face pychologically and spiritually. That’s the part that I am beginning to feel. In the past, I have been out on my own for a week or so at time. I know how that feels. I know how I respond to that. I know what to expect of myself. I have never set out on my own without the people closest to me for this length of time and through areas where I have little contact.
I am experiencing the first signs of riding into the wilderness. It might be because home is now a full 13 days ride away. Even if I were to hit a wall I would still either need to ride back to Boise 140 miles west or push through to Bozeman, still 350 miles east before catching a plane. I have also entered the great expansive West where towns are spread out 30-60 miles apart. Planning has become critical. More than once I have ridden through a “town” listed on the map only to find that the town was comprised of three houses and a welcome sign. I feel the weight at times of being in a wilderness. The distance between towns, the heat, the physical challenges, the unpredicable weather, andthe knowledge that mistakes can be costly in this environment.
The first signs of riding into the wilderness are there. Among my general excitement there is some fear, some anxiety, lots of unknowns, and a sobering feeling of what still lies before me. For now, though, I am able to simply observe the feelings running through me, without reacting to them. I think it is part of the pilgrimage experience. Honor the feelings. Don’t run from them.